Background: Although several studies have reported high rates of sexual dysfunction in patients treated for rectal cancer, most studies have been limited by retrospective design, failure to use validate instruments, and a limited number of female patients.
Objectives: The objectives of this study were to 1) prospectively assess changes in sexual function before and after treatment for rectal cancer and 2) identify potential areas for improved care of patients who have rectal cancer with sexual dysfunction.
Design: This study is a prospective, longitudinal survey.
Settings: This study was conducted at 4 tertiary care academic hospitals.
Patients: The patients included had newly diagnosed rectal cancer.
Main outcome measures: Subjects completed the European Organization for Research and Treatment Quality of Life Cancer Module and Colorectal Cancer Module, International Index of Erectile Function, and Female Sexual Function Index questionnaires before the start of treatment, after the completion of preoperative chemoradiotherapy, and 1 year after surgery.
Results: Forty-five patients completed the study, and the overall results showed significant sexual dysfunction in both male and female subjects that continued to increase from baseline up to 1 year after surgery. In male subjects, sexual activity, interest, and enjoyment remained relatively stable, despite increasing sexual problems. However, for female patients, although sexual activity and interest remained relatively stable, sexual enjoyment worsened as sexual problems increased.
Limitations: The study closed before reaching the target sample size owing to lower than anticipated accrual rates. Post hoc analysis included qualitative interviews with patients to explore reasons for low recruitment.
Conclusions: The results of this study show that sexual problems continue to increase up to 1 year after surgery. Despite this, sexual interest in both male and female patients remained relatively unchanged suggesting that other aspects of sexuality, not just physiologic function, also need to be evaluated. Future studies to assist and educate physicians on how to initiate a discussion about sexuality and identify patients in "distress" because of sexual problems are important.